Mariano Rivera pitches scoreless eighth in final All-Star Game
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Mariano Rivera didn't get the save.
But what he did get was the night's longest, and maybe loudest, ovation.
Not wanting to take the chance of there not being a bottom of the ninth -- and hence, Rivera being blocked from pitching -- American League manager Jim Leyland called on the closer in the bottom of the eighth with the AL leading 3-0.
Rivera pitched a perfect eighth, retiring Jean Segura, Allen Craig and Carlos Gomez and afterward was named the game's MVP.
"I have no words for it," Rivera said of the night.
That he didn't pitch the ninth was secondary and those complaining about Leyland missed the larger point. It was about players, from both teams, getting a chance to pay tribute to the game's greatest closer, universally respected.
That was evident when Rivera entered in the eighth. He came in to "Enter Sandman," his usual Yankee Stadium entry song, doffing his cap to the roaring crowd, which stood and cheered for well over a minute.
But there was also the sight of the entire National League dugout standing and applauding. Rivera looked and saw the AL dugout doing the same.
But that was part of what Leyland said was the "staging" of the inning. For Rivera to have the mound, and essentially the moment, to himself.
"That almost made me cry, too," said Rivera, who also used the word "weird" to describe it. "I will never forget that."
After the 43-year-old closer retired the NL with a 16-pitch (11 strikes) eighth, the crowd stood again. As Rivera came off the field, the first player to greet him near the dugout was Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
"I have the utmost respect for that guy and I wanted to show that," Verlander said. "It's something I'll never forget. I got tears in my eyes."
That feeling played out, Leyland said, before the game in the AL clubhouse, where veteran outfielder Torii Hunter turned things over to Rivera to say a few words to his teammates.
"I told them to make sure to enjoy it," Rivera said of a career in the big leagues "because it goes past quick. That was my speech. I told them to appreciate every bit of it."
Leyland said it had an impact. "I can't tell you how emotional it was in the clubhouse before the game," Leyland said. "That was very touching."
Leyland called Rivera "a friend," and though he wouldn't disclose the exact words, teared up when recalling what the closer said to him on the field in April during an on-field ceremony honoring him at Comerica Park.
"I have tremendous respect for that man," Rivera said. "Jim represents baseball the way everybody should represent it.''
And, again, Leyland wasn't going to chance not getting Rivera in the game.
"I'm probably not the most popular manager in baseball," Leyland said. "And I wanted to make sure I got out of here alive tonight."